We’re somewhere in the hills outside Seattle, Washington. I’d tell you where, exactly…but then I’d have to kill you.
Entering an undisclosed forest in the Pacific Northwest to find golden chanterelles.
This is golden chanterelle season. We hike through a mousse of gray fog, into a forest of Douglas fir trees. In the Pacific Northwest, chanterelles have a mycorrhizal relationship with Douglas firs; the mushrooms feed on sugars from the tree and the tree, in turn, provides nutrients for the mushrooms (on the east coast and in California, the mushrooms tend to grow under oaks).
Regardless of the type of host, chanterelles are only found at the base of live trees. We learn this from our guide, Matt Stoecker, an amateur mycologist, who has been foraging in the Pacific Northwest for 21 years. He learned about mushrooms as an undergraduate at Oberlin College, from Dr. David Miller. He also credits a large amount of outside reading and in-the-field experience (literally), for much of his knowledge.
We drive through the perfectly manicured shopping-mall-landscape of Orange County and exit onto the post-apocalyptic emptiness of the Portola parkway. The world begins to change from lush green to thirsty brown. A few turns later, we’re headed into the mountains: rising hills and scrubby underbrush, cyclists, trucks and signs that warn of wildlife crossings for the next two miles. Then the steep shoulders give way to small parking lots; dry, dusty canyons and sage-covered hills turn into the tiny community of Silverado, CA.
Joel Robinson, founder of Naturalist For You, leads groups on foraging expeditions in rural Orange County and many other areas.
This is where we meet Joel Robinson, the naturalist and professional forager who will take us on an edible tour of the woods.
There’s no mistaking him as he walks up to us in the parking lot of the Silverado Café: He appears to be in his early thirties. His dark, shaggy brown hair expands outward from under his Ojai Valley Land Conservancy cap, and he has a beard and moustache to match. He’s got a weathered backpack slung over one shoulder, dangling a pair of old running shoes from a strap. He’s barefoot.
Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton was an Appalachian moonshiner. He learned the craft from his father, Vader, growing up in the Smoky Mountains by the North Carolina/Tennessee border – one of the four moonshine capitals of the world.
Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton. (Photo © U.S. Marshals Service)
Vader had learned the art of old copper cookery from his father, and it seems that special brand of alchemy ran deep in the family’s Scots-Irish ancestry. Lots of folks out there can say that; the Scots-Irish brought the craft with them when they came over; it didn’t become illegal until the Whiskey Rebellion and Washington’s “Tom the Tinker” days in the late 1700s.
A lot of folks in those parts can also point to a family history of mule-like stubbornness and fierce rebellion that kept them cooking up home brew even after the laws kicked in. It was a determination that took them flying down Thunder Road and into the annals of NASCAR history. See, up in the hills, you just do what’s got to be done, and if government or outsiders don’t like it, then government or outsiders know where they can stick their meddling.